Upping the Agency Ante: Being More Accountable Makes You a Partner

We’ve been thinking lately about how agencies can regain their former strategic partner status with clients. The glory days of agency of record, retainers and marketing partnerships seem to have waned, but we feel agencies have a lever to reposition themselves with clients. That lever is accountability.

What do we mean by accountability in agency-client relationships? In our view, agencies must stop clients from relegating them to mere project vendors or casual partners, and convince clients that a deeper relationship translates into greater value and higher returns for the company. Agencies can take charge of their relationships by doing the following:

Set goals and make them specific. Instead of pledging to increase email signups or boost site traffic, say by when and by how much. (Make sure you set goals you believe you can deliver.)

Make the commitment as the agency leader. You, personally, have to back up your promises to clients. Set up a risk/reward compensation arrangement. You profit only if you deliver the promised results. Just make sure you at least break even if you fail to deliver.

Measure. Show you care and prove your work works by tracking and sharing analytics. The more you share the data, the more you demonstrate that results are an agency value, and clients can trust you to keep those in focus.

Use project check-ins to monitor and “spur.” Regularly share progress updates with clients. These can also be used to move clients on tasks they need to complete, or to get materials they promised to you.

Look for and exploit opportunities. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to reposition the client against competitors, or gain a new audience, or simply get the client into the news as an expert or industry leader. Bring more beneficial ideas to the client table, and your agency will be seen as a strategic partner worth every penny they pay you.

Keep learning new things. No agency can rest on past laurels. You must keep adapting and evolving to meet changes in practices, technology, media, customer trends, etc. Better still, when you learn something really valuable, share that knowledge with clients. Every teachable moment becomes an additional thread in the warp and weft of your client relationship.

Stand up for your people. Marketing today is about speed, agility and innovation. That means some risk may be involved. With risk comes the potential for missteps. Especially if you make a mistake, back up your people in front of the client; review and learn from mistakes in the privacy of the agency. Be bold, courageous and supportive of the people who generate your ideas.

Fight for ideas you believe in. Your conviction helps sell higher-risk ideas, and your passion engages clients to accept risk to achieve better results. An added benefit: when you fight to sell the client your best ideas, your team will be motivated to keep creating strong ideas.

Accountability is the road back to being your clients’ best and most valuable partner. Are you taking these steps? If not, it’s time to step up your game and reclaim your position as the people who add value.